Lots of speculation on the future of traditional news and digital media brands this past month… The big headline was obviously the loss of more than 1,000 jobs at BuzzFeed, AOL, Yahoo and HuffPost. Yes, even Buzzfeed. “Wasn’t this the company that was supposed to have it all figured out?” the Business of Fashion gasped.Read More
What's the difference between Twitter Live and Periscope? I see the camera button beneath the cursor when I open a window to tweet. And the latter, which Twitter acquired in 2015, is installed on my iPhone – still waiting to be loved. But shouldn't they be doing the same job, allowing smartphone owners to live stream any time anywhere and get instant feedback?
I have another important question. Is anyone regularly using these tools beyond early adopter types, X Factor hopefuls and wannabe celebrities? Who are the must-follow live streamers? How is the company working to nurture its broadcaster community, one that has been largely underserved as this Mashable article explains? And what about Facebook Live, Instagram Live and YouTube Live? Everyone is going live. Where does Twitter fit in?
Only one place to go for answers and that’s London HQ, of course. There, among a small industry crowd, I was given a short presentation about the different ways that people are harnessing the service, from popular individuals like Emmy Award-winning storm chaser Jeff Piotrowski to power publishers like Buzzfeed.
Our host also gave us a glimpse into the future. One key update was that Twitter plans to combine Twitter Live and Periscope to create the go-to live broadcast platform, one that can be accessed and navigated in as fewer clicks as possible like Snapchat. A sensible move for a company that wants to be what’s ‘now’ (or rather “what’s happening in the world and what people are talking about right now”).
Although it’s important to appeal to the general public, both in terms of deepening the pool of available streams and clocking up viewers to woo advertisers, it is clear that brands are also key targets for Twitter. This is a business, after all. Hence the recent launch of Twitter Studio for publishers. Jo Kelly, Twitter’s Head of News EMEA, said that, “The priority is working with news organisations to monetise their content, taking clips from their live streams to market.” This could be in the form of breaking news (Bloomberg is a partner), pre-planned events ( eg Live Nation concerts and Wimbledon) or special programming (Gatorade's #TheBuzz and PopBuzz).
According to their Q4 2017 shareholder letter, Twitter live-streamed more than 1,140 events (up from 830 in Q3) and made 22 new partnerships (nine of which were international). It will be interesting to see how the interests of consumers and brands each impact product development.
Part two of the evening was a panel discussion featuring Evan Hansen (Editor-in-chief of @periscopetv and ex-Wired), John McHugh (Co-founder of news agency @verifeyemedia) and Ryan Broderick (Deputy Global News Director at Buzzfeed). Some good points came out of that conversation. Hansen was predictably buoyant about the service, saying that, “So much of broadcasting has been the fourth wall and distancing yourself from the story. This is more engaging and allows the person streaming to really use the camera to help inform.”
And referring to the more news-driven political reports, he pointed out that, “The arc of these stories is often a lot longer than the initial broadcasts. It’s not just a one-off. There is a whole ripple effect, galvanising people around an issue.”
McHugh is a veteran of mobile journalism. He noted that live broadcasting has been around for a long time. In fact, I have covered pioneers such as Tim Pool and the rise of smartphone-wielding citizen journalists on this site. But the ability to upload content on site, in the midst of a story, is now greater than ever, especially for those working on investigations. One caveat though: he was quick to emphasis the value of personality and insight when live-streaming, particularly if you hope to make money from it.
Otherwise you risk undermining your brand. “When you watch live, the picture can be shaky, noisy but people want to stay with it to see what happens. But if you are live you need to keep it engaging, explain what’s happening…” And your audience can help you do that by asking things you haven’t even thought of. It's not all about flying hearts.
Broderick is an engaging presenter/commentator. He has live-streamed reports everywhere from pro-union protests in Barcelona to North Korea demonstrations at the Winter Olympics. For him, Periscope is “an incredible opportunity to get right in there.” But it goes beyond that. Buzzfeed is still fighting for credibility in the media industry. “We really want to showcase that we have reporters and they know things,” he said. However, he was concerned about the issue of consent as you are putting people live on camera like never before.
Overall I did come away with more questions than answers, many of which Hansen echoed. For instance, how is Twitter going to verify and manage all this user-generated content? Streams could easily be misleading – “context isn’t always there with live,” as he put it. One solution could be to aggregate several feeds/cameras from one event or scene. Safeguarding is also important. Remember last year’s stories about viewers grooming children on the platform?
But let’s finish on a more optimistic note. Well, two actually. Personalisation is always a big carrot for users. So imagine if Twitter could recommend the best content for you using machine learning. That would be invaluable. Secondly, Hansen anticipates a new realm streaming-inspired documentary. “Where could live video go next?” he asks. “What can that bring us in terms of understanding what’s going on in the world and our enhancing our empathy?
Let's get out there and find out.
Last week I attended a discussion about the future of the Beeb, with a particular focus on the poor level of diversity both on screen and behind the scenes. We challenged the universality of the organisation – the notion of "a BBC for all" – and learned why there should be no taxation without representation for licence fee payers.
The aim was to make a few recommendations to the House of Lords as part of a public consultation on the Royal Charter review, which closes on 8 October. The Royal Charter is the constitutional basis for the corporation. It sets out the public purposes of the BBC, guarantees its independence, and outlines the duties of the Trust and the Executive Board. The current Charter runs until 31 December 2016. What comes next could be dramatically different and set in stone for another ten years. So we need to get it right.
The mission of the BBC has always been “to enrich people’s lives … inform, educate and entertain.” However, given the rapid changes in technology, shifting market forces and media consumption habits, a review is long overdue. That review will explore the evolving purpose, scale and scope of the institution as well as how it’s funded and governed.
I have always felt immense pride in and privilege in being a BBC viewer and listener. The productions are reassuringly world-class, great entertainment and often deeply insightful – from old favourites such as Question Time, Match of the Day, Desert Island Discs and Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide show, to numerous BBC4 arts and culture documentaries and occasional one-offs such as Adam Curtis’ Bitter Lake. I could even live stream the Olympics and Glastonbury on the magnificent iPlayer from the comfort of my lounge. And let’s not forget the countless laughs, both old (The Graham Norton Show) and new (People Just Do Nothing). There's even a show about how bureaucratic and buffoon-laden the BBC is. You will have your own favourites. Strictly Come Dancing, Sherlock, Poldark, The Great British Bake Off, Wolf Hall… The list goes on.
All this, and much more, for £2.80 a week? That is a bargain. Satisfaction levels among the 97% of UK adults using BBC services each week are quite high, although they do vary depending on the region and age group.
But there are challenges, growing pains, a need to adapt… The main issue is budget, with the government forcing the BBC to cover the cost of TV licences for over-75s (that’s around £750 million each year). High-quality, on-demand programming is expensive and not everyone is willing to pay for it, particularly those who say they do watch the BBC. So do you impose a household media levy as in Germany, introduce a tiered subscription model geared to how much we consume, or perhaps a combination? How can you fund a public broadcaster and encourage development over time without diminishing value to the customer or imposing a stealth tax? For one thing, iPlayer on-demand viewers should not be getting a free ride. Regardless of whether the programme is streamed live or watched on catch up, everyone should contribute.
Another issue is the number of people who say they don't feel represented by the Beeb and that is where the figures on BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) talent have been particularly damaging to the public broadcaster. Channel 4 has announced that 20% of its London staff will be BAME by 2020; at Sky it's 20% of all UK on-screen and writing talent before 2016. And at the BBC? A disappointing 15% (on screen) by 2017. This latter target was announced by Director-General Lord Hall in June 2014 as part of a diversity strategy. Other measures include a £2.1 million fund for BAME talent on and off screen to develop new programmes, more training internships, recruiting six Commissioners of the Future and setting up an Independent Diversity Action Group featuring Lenny Henry and Floella Benjamin, among others. But this doesn’t go far enough for the likes of Simon Albury, chair at the Campaign for Broadcasting Equality, who has called for £100m of ring-fenced funding. "Money changes things," he says.
Lord Hall maintains that the BBC is making progress but a quick peek at casts and credits suggests otherwise. Henry, a tireless campaigner on this subject, noted that between 2006 and 2012, the number of black and Asian people working in the industry had gone down by 30.9%. The issue is one of both recruitment and retention: Broadcast Now reported that between 2009 and 2014, BAME resignations at the BBC increased from 8.6% to 16.1%. Henry first appeared on British TV in 1975. Today, his fleetingly autobiographical drama Danny & the Human Zoo is one of the few BAME stories on the BBC. Progress?
It’s important for the flagship BBC One to be setting the right example, which is why Oscar winner Steve McQueen’s forthcoming six-part drama about a West Indian family in London is so exciting. Meanwhile Motown-powered musical drama Stop!, written by Tony Jordan (Eastenders, By Any Means, The Ark), will “reflect the diversity of modern Britain” apparently. What about emerging talent though and even more provocative storytelling?
Clearly, jobs at the BBC should be going to the most promising, suitably experienced and talented candidates regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation. (And that goes for studio guests too, lest we have more car crash TV like this Straight Outta Compton discussion on Newsnight. No wonder viewers have “given up” on the BBC, according to producer Jasmine Botiwala.) But until commissioners, casting agents and other key decision makers can be trusted to better reflect the true breadth of British voices on TV, there will have to be targets across departments. And, presumably, penalties imposed by OFCOM or the DCMS.
The current Royal Charter is quite vague on the subject of diversity. Wade through the weighty tome and you’ll see phrases such as “representing the UK, its nations, regions and communities”, “bringing the UK to the world and the world to the UK” and having Audience Councils “to bring the diverse perspectives of licence fee payers to bear on the work of the Trust”. The broadcasting agreement between the BBC and the secretary of state elaborates further: “The Trust must, amongst other things, seek to ensure that the BBC—
1. (a) reflects and strengthens cultural identities through original content at local, regional and national level, on occasion bringing audiences together for shared experiences; and
2. (b) promotes awareness of different cultures and alternative viewpoints, through content that reflects the lives of different people and different communities within the UK.”
The Audience Councils appear too region-focused and do not sufficiently reflect the cultural nuances within those regions. Culture Secretary John Whittendale acknowledged this fact when delivering his charter review statement in the House of Commons in July: “Variations exist, and there are particular challenges in reaching people from certain ethnic minority backgrounds and in meeting the needs of younger people, who increasingly access content online. Variations exist among the different nations and regions too.”
But back to the question of funding, and one way to bolster the BBC is to “by pushing ourselves more commercially abroad,” in the words of writer and producer Armando Iannucci. During his James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival he went on to say: "Be more aggressive in selling our shows, through advertising, through proper international subscription channels, freeing up BBC Worldwide to be fully commercial, whatever it takes.”
Lord Hall has acknowledged the need to raise commercial income to supplement the licence fee “so we can invest as much as possible in content for UK audiences.” One example is the forthcoming over-the-top streaming service in the US. He went much further when outlining his vision for the BBC at the Science Museum in September. Presenting his “open platform for creativity”, Hall announced a partnership with local and regional news organisations (funded by cuts to other departments), and advocated an Ideas Service (presumably an echo of the World Service) where the BBC hosts content from leading cultural institutions such as the British Museum and the Royal Shakespeare Company. He also implied that WoCC (Window of Creative Competition) quotas would be relaxed, allowing more independent producers to bid for BBC commissions beyond the current minimum of 25%. In theory that would mean greater flexibility and diversity in TV production. In theory.
His vision garnered mixed reactions. The government has cautioned against placing too great a burden on BBC Worldwide to generate extra revenue for fear of prioritising global commercial appeal before investment in public service content for UK audiences. The Mirror emphasised the huge competition for today’s viewers (between 1994 and 2015 the number of available channels has risen from 61 to 536) and the importance of the BBC to the UK economy. “The money the BBC spends on actors, cameramen, sets, equipment, technical experts and many other areas means more private sector jobs are created and more small businesses are sustained," we're told. "A recent report showed that the BBC was responsible for spending £2.2bn in the UK’s creative industries – with around £450m going straight to small businesses. This helps Britain build a TV industry to rival any in the world. It helps the UK develop some of the world’s best actors, cameramen, and directors.”
In the Guardian, Ashley Highfield, the vice chairman of the News Media Association and chief executive of regional publisher Johnston Press, said: “It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the BBC’s proposal … [is] anything other than BBC expansion into local news provision and recruitment of more BBC local journalists through the back door.”
Innovation charity Nesta gave a more pragmatic and favourable reading, echoing Hall’s tone of evolution not revolution. “The central argument is that the BBC needs to add to its historic mission of educating, informing and entertaining, an additional goal of empowering – using its resources to energise a surrounding ecology of other creators and providers."
Few can doubt Lord Hall’s dedication to the BBC and its founding principles. He genuinely wants to make the corporation more efficient and to serve audiences better through more bespoke and portable content. We should all put a hand in our pocket if we want to reap the benefits. The real challenge will be to make BBC programming more reflective of modern multicultural Britain – complex, nuanced, surprising – one that’s concerned with a whole lot more than cakes and costumes and celebrities in and around the capital. It's about building trust. Otherwise viewers, particularly the 16-24s, will simply switch off and turn to alternatives such as YouTube, Vice and Netflix. Comedy and drama are two areas that require attention.
The loss of BBC Three as a linear broadcast is regretful but the right decision given its core audience's viewing habits and the £50m saving. Perhaps in a new online-only guise, the channel that gave us Little Britain, The Mighty Boosh and a host of other cult hits, will find its way into the lives of tech-obsessed 16-24s, quickly building a following and helping to nudge new talent into prime-time mainstream. YouTube can help to identify shows and concepts that will capture the public's imagination, as Sky have found with Baby Isako's Venus v Mars. There is such much talent out there. Why isn't the BBC investing in confident young voices like director Cecile Emeke?
BBC Taster is a good attempt to allow the public to influence programming but they could be involved even earlier in the creative process. BBC Raw allows young talent to use media to confront issues that matter to them but the project could benefit from better promotion. A golden opportunity awaits to make the BBC a true reflection of the best of British. The time is now.
If you haven't bought a copy of new fanzine British Values then you really should. Edited by journalist Kieran Yates and featuring the words of both established and emerging talent in the UK, it is a deliciously irreverent take on modern British culture by the children of immigrants. AKA, the loud minority.Read More
You probably have a smartphone in your pocket. Powerful little thing isn't it. TV. Films. Music. Games. Apps. Limitless selfies. All at your fingertips within seconds. Now imagine if a protest kicks off outside the cafe you're supping at. You rush outside, press record and capture events as they unfold. Then, you share it to Facebook and Twitter. Does that make you a journalist? Did you get the whole story or simply your view of events? These questions were at the heart of a recent Intelligence Squared debate in London, presented in association with Google+ and ITV News.
Some of the most powerful and indelible images of breaking news stories during the past few years have come from so-called citizen journalists on the ground: the tsunami in Thailand, the Occupy Movement, the Arab Spring, Syria, the Boston Marathon, the Japanese earthquake, the London riots, the brutal murder of Lee Rigby… A window to events as they unfold. Traditional media and trained reporters cannot be everywhere and when they do shimmy their way to the front, they are hardly the most inconspicuous, agile or welcomed. So surely having more information at hand is good for both the press and the public?
But this tidal wave of media can be a double-edged sword. There is a danger of misinformation and misinterpretations, hoaxes and vested interests. I still remember the Boston bombings wildfire on Twitter, major news organisations posting with scant regard for journalistic ethics and standards. As Mark Austin, ITV News anchor and chair for the evening, asked in his introduction, "Should we always believe what we see? And is citizen journalism informing or distorting our understanding of world events?"
Here are a few soundbites from the panellists that evening:
Founder of Videre (set credere), a human rights group that works to expose violations around the globe through covert filming. Yakobovich, a former Israeli soldier, has trained hundreds of citizens in the West Bank to use cameras to fight for justice.
"Journalists can't be everywhere. They're not always able to be on the ground. Citizen journalists are an underground and sustainable network of people that can give us the news that we wouldn't normally hear about."
"Everyone has an agenda. Everyone should verify sources and do their own checking."
Renowned libertarian writer and director of Britain's Institute of Ideas. She writes regularly for national newspapers and is a member of the European Cultural Parliament.
"Citizens with cameras: good. But not journalism. Journalism is about developing context, being skeptical and asking awkward questions. These people are just watching events and not really understanding or asking the big questions [who, why etc]."
"There is the potential for a distortion of the truth in some citizen footage."
"Detachment and objectivity are important benefits of the parachuted in journalist. They are there to convince us why this news is important."
"[Traditional] journalists are trying to ape the citizen journalists too much. There has been a collapse of editorial confidence [retweets as a metric of success at some papers]."
"We [the public] should hold journalists to account. Demand the best of truth. Not try to do it ourselves."
Author, journalist and broadcaster, who writes two fortnightly columns for the New Statesman.
"The best definition of journalism is by HL Mencken: 'It is the job of the journalist to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.' It's my watchword. Run that test…"
"There is a frisson that lies behind a lot of this smartphone footage, a rather grotesque form of entertainment – a form of comfort, if that's what it is – that responsible journalism should not be involved in."
"Citizen journalism is coming in to fill a vacuum but it's a mistake to call it journalism."
"Everybody can be heard now, but nobody's listening."
"Here is an example of non-journalism: the use of chemical weapons in Syria, supposedly by the al-Assad regime, which was not in fact the case. Footage almost triggered ground force invasion by the US. Decontextualised citizen journalism could have precipitated a human rights violation on a gargantuan scale."
"Of course [the citizen journalism debate] is about money and revenue streams. There is a febrile mood that's created an atmosphere of hysteria. Everyone's tweeting, sending in this smartphone material… But who get to use this head of effectively useless steam that this material generates?"
"Anyone over the age of 50 will remember growing up around the time of Vietnam and witnessing unmediated news coverage for the first time. It took a while for the media to understand what a responsible relationship with that material was. It is the responsibility of mainstream news media to try to develop a way of dealing with [citizen journalism] material and developing an ethic around it."
World-renowned photojournalist and war photographer. In 2012 Conroy suffered severe injuries in the Syrian city of Homs during an attack that killed two other reporters, including celebrated Sunday Times journalist Marie Colvin.
"We wouldn't dream of printing hearsay. We would go to the spot. The job of the journalist is to bear witness. Marie was incredible at going one step further, one step further… With citizen journalists there isn't that depth."
"Give me 20 minutes with that footage and I can tell any story you like."
Citizen journalist and founder of Video Volunteers, an organisation that works to empower India's rural and slum communities, who have been excluded from the traditional media.
"There has always been a continuum between activism and journalism. They go hand in hand. We [Video Volunteers] talk about video for change. Our network of community corespondents work as reporters. They don't just make the videos, they use them to try to solve the problem that the video addresses. If they see that opportunity … they seize it."
"Subjective personal experience is certainly not journalism, but it's nonetheless valid. A real opportunity now exists…"
Soviet-born American journalist, director and producer, currently reporting for VICE News. He was recently held captive for three days by pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine.
"In Ukraine, a lot of people have started setting up Livestreams from occupied public buildings but I wouldn't call this journalism so much as activism. They use it for co-ordination but us journalists can follow the cameras set up to know what's going on where."
"Citizen journalists are mostly endangering themselves."
Director of Newsgathering at ITV News, who was sitting in the audience that night. He is chiefly responsible for handling citizen journalism submissions to the channel.
"In Syria, where access becomes increasingly difficult, meaningful contacts are hard to come by and reporters are treated as outsiders, citizen journalists can be a great resource. We've always needed citizen journalists in one shape or another – eg fixers – but now they have the power to help make the news."
"Mainstream media organisations are more important and relevant than ever. We continue to have bureaus and to report news from around the world because we must confront the fact that a lot of material on the internet isn't unreliable."
The subject of verification came up time and again. Several companies have tried to answer this challenge by helping to filter the authentic and reliable from the noise and successfully bridge the gap between traditional and social media. CNN employs various mechanisms to verify information posted to their iReport platform, including checking the source's account for multiple videos or photos, and proximity to the location of the incident using geolocation information. However, CNN is also aware of the dangers in identifying sources and their locations, particularly in oppressed countries or where violent acts have occurred. So certain submissions can appear anonymously to the public.
Storyful is a news agency that came to prominence during the Arab Spring uprising, delivering a stream of reliable footage from the frontline. They use a combination of old-fashioned journalistic manpower and clever algorithm software to identify, verify and provide social media content for some of the biggest names in news, including Reuters, the Wall Street Street Journal and Channel 4.
On a recent blog post the company identified a "fundamental difference" between the work of the citizen journalist and the professional journalist: "While this [difference] makes neither less important, it must be kept in mind. Many citizen journalists have more obvious vested interests and personal biases. They may, for instance, be participants entrenched in the situation they are reporting on, their views thus involuntarily skewed. This does not necessarily invalidate what they see and record, but taking theirs as the 'whole truth' can lead to a view about news events that has more than just a few blind spots." A clear example of this is the reporting of conflict in the Ukraine.
Tim Pool was one name strangely absent from the panel. He has helped to popularise the term "citizen journalist" more than anyone else. It is, however, a title that he quickly rejected when I asked him about the debate and the reliability of footage from reporters such as himself. "I am not a citizen journalist," he replied. "I am the Head of Live News at Vice. What they are really arguing is that if you don't have a degree or get a salary that somehow you are less ethical than they are. Rubbish. Always consider your sources."
The 28-year-old American came to prominence in 2011 when he hopped on a bus to New York and broadcast from his phone for 21 hours non-stop during Occupy Wall Street's eviction from Zuccotti Park. His DIY ethos, "commitment to the decentralisation of information" and determination to "tell it like it is" using everyday technology really chimed with hundreds of thousands of news-hungry streamers across the world. Although some have questioned his gung-ho approach, filming everything and everyone without first seeking consent. Since then he has experimented with a drone, hacked a pair of Google Glass to report from Istanbul and even co-created Taggly, an attribution app that allows the user to instantly share photos and video footage with an optional watermark. The citizen journalist gets credit for their content, while news agencies are able to check the veracity of the material they wish to use.
If there was a consensus among the panel it is that the footage from these citizen journalists has some value – particularly in closed countries where, as Mark Austin put it, mainstream journalism does not exist. But professional in traditional media are the masters of their own destiny. The onus is on editors and trained journalists to be collaborative and resourceful in their mission to make sense of the world in an informative and accessible way. But they should, as always, rigorously check their sources.
And that's not all. A good journalist is skeptical, always quick to question their own assumptions and investigate the possibility that they are wrong. As Guardian reporter Paul Lewis did during the investigation into the unlawful death of Ian Tomlinson during the G20 protests in 2009. After speaking about this – and the Jimmy Mubenga case – at a TED talk on citizen journalism in 2011, Lewis concluded with the following line: "That process of witnessing, recording and sharing … is journalism. And we can all do it."
A powerful ideal and an impulse to be encouraged in every person.